Whatever your story, whatever your industry, little businesses in a post-recession economy are often advised to be apocalyptically ruthless. It may work for some, but what if we all took a different approach to try and dig ourselves out of the financial hole we’re stuck in? This alternative philosophy has been successfully practised by Tenessee-based burger brand Pal’s Sudden Service since 2000, when a Business Institute was launched to provide practical advice and workshops to promote their company amongst competitors, and it has made waves in the restaurant industry, with others following suit. As the Institute’s President, David J, McClasky states, welcoming your competitors with open arms can be more than just a philanthropic gesture: “No matter where a customer goes, if they have a good experience eating out, then they eat out more often,” he says. “We figure everybody wins when businesses are run at excellent levels.”
This mantra can be especially important in creative industries and an artistic approach to the 21st century’s financial challenges could be your most unexpected source of inspiration. If you have spent time previously studying the arts, you’ll understand the importance of co-operation, critique and collaboration, so just how should that be different once you have left education?
Collaboration in Practice: The Freelance Photographer
Take freelance photography as a strong example. It’s a demanding field which requires extensive technical knowledge and relentless passion from the individual, plus an unwavering desire to achieve outstanding results for each and every client. Working alone or perhaps with a micro-team around them, a freelance photographer will be responsible for all areas of his or her business, from booking shoots and meeting clients to more mundane tasks like banking and bookkeeping. Everyone has their own strengths and being required to fill such a variety of roles can take its toll, so it’s no wonder that many photographers in this position often feel overwhelmed. If this scenario sounds familiar, discussing your business with others can help you assess your approach to your work, enable you to get to know cameras and setups for use in your own projects, tackle common working issues, or even just help you offload the general stresses and strains of working on a freelance basis. You’ll be putting your work into perspective and developing valuable bonds with others around you.
Learning To Give and Take as a Business
So why should you take the time to forge reciprocal relationships with those who would traditionally pose a threat to your business? Well, being generous enough to share knowledge, experience and, crucially, contacts may equate to naivety and foolishness in some people’s minds, but consider your own personal benefit. Networking is paramount to establishing oneself as a professional company or brand, and open, assured lines of communication inspire confidence, helping boost your income and get clients. If old friends suddenly become your competition, shunning them can be counterproductive.
Furthermore if there is an ambitious job you don’t quite feel ready for, recommending a rival photographer rather than putting your own reputation into jeopardy is just common sense. As an artist may collaborate with somebody working in another medium to execute the best piece of work, this could be applied to business. Working together on a project with a competitor will allow you to combine your specialist skills to make for a more rounded enterprise, even if it is only temporary.
On a broader scale, however, a healthy business climate needs to be at the forefront of industry for a more stable future. Shying away from banker-esque cut-throat gluttony could be the first (deceptively simple) step in achieving great opportunities for every small business.
Where would we all be without a little help from our ‘friends’? Anna Layne knows first-hand the tribulations facing small businesses and how important it is to glean as much help and information from her competitors. She currently works on behalf of Trinity Photography, a Glasgow-based wedding photography firm that’s risen from small foundations to achieve a great reputation in the local area.